Whether you’re out fishing for your supper or picking up a few filets from the seafood counter, there’s nothing quite like the pull-apart flakiness of smoked meat. This cooking method might seem intimidating if you’ve never used a smoker before since, unlike other techniques, you’re not applying heat directly to the meat. 

For those worried about attempting this idea for the first time, here is a set of step-by-step instructions for cooking the perfect filet in your smoker. 

Choose the Right Smoker

If you’re going to start smoking fish or other meats, the first thing you need is a smoker. Not all machines are equal, but you don’t need to break the bank by buying the most expensive option on the market. Start by asking yourself a few questions, like: 

  • How much space do I have for a smoker? Large equipment might not be the best choice for crowded neighborhoods or apartment buildings. 
  • What fuel do I want to use? Options for fuel include charcoal, wood, pellets, propane and electricity, depending on what kind of flavor you want from your finished product. 
  • What sort of features do you need? Do you want to keep a close eye on your food, or would you rather set-it-and-forget-it? Basic, cheap smokers won’t have the same components as more expensive models. 

Do some research and try out different smokers if you have the opportunity. You might be surprised when you find the perfect option for you. 

Choose and Clean Your Fish

The next step is choosing your meat, an area where you have a couple of options. For small fish, you’ll probably want to smoke the entire thing.  For larger species, like salmon or sea bass, you’ll want to cut it into small fillets, roughly two inches thick, allowing it to cook more evenly. 

Your next step is to clean the fish. If you’re buying your meal from the market, employees do much of the work for you.  If you’re catching your dinner, you’ll need to prepare and clean your fish by removing the scales, guts and fins. You can leave the head on, especially if you’re planning to use the smoked head and spine for fish stock later on. 

The secret to easy cleaning and filleting of your fish is a very sharp knife. When you’re working with sharp knives or fish bones, the last thing you want is to slice your fingers. Consider investing in a good pair of cut-proof gloves to protect your fingers from an errant knife slice, sharp bone or — in the case of some fish — spines. 

Brine Your Fish

Now, it’s time to get your fish ready to smoke. To do that, you need to brine it. A saltwater brine adds flavor and moisture to the fish and can keep it from desiccating in the smoker while you cook. Smoking is a low-and-slow technique — cooking long periods at low temperatures — so it needs all the extra help it can get. 

You’ll need roughly 2.5 tablespoons of salt for every cup of water you use, and you’ll need enough brine to submerge your fish fully. Brine it for at least 15 minutes per 1 inch of thickness.

You aren’t just to salt in your brine, however. Feel free to spice things up with your favorite flavors, from soy sauce and brown sugar to garlic and onion powder — whatever tickles your fancy.

Smoke Your Fish

Finally, you’re ready to smoke your fish. This process is slow, with most meat taking upwards of three hours or more to cook. Get your smoker up to your starting temperature — this will depend on the specifics of your smoker, but will usually be relatively low, around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your fish in the smoker skin side down and let it cook for two hours or so before raising the temperature to about 200 degrees for the remainder. 

Once done cooking, the fish should be flaky, flavorful and cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part of the filet. The flesh will be opaque, and the meat will separate easily with a fork. Once ready, move on to the next step. 

Enjoy Your Fish

All that’s left to do is to enjoy your fish with the sides of your choice. Try complementary appetizers like bacon-wrapped asparagus, zucchini fritters, baked french fries or curried cashew salad. You can also toss the smoked fish in a pot, along with corn, lima beans and russet potatoes, to make a savory chowder.

Smoked fish is so flaky and flavorful that you may never go back to cooking your catch another way. If you find a tasty brine or spice recipe, let us know! We’d love to try out something delicious the next time we fire up our smoker. 

Ready to Get Started?

Get tips and techniques for where and how to catch your next fish at Fishidy.com then get smoking!